Seattle city attorney proposes marijuana home grows, lounges and merging medical system

by: Graham Johnson Updated:

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SEATTLE - Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes on Monday issued a sweeping policy proposal that calls for allowing people to grow pot at home, establishing vapor lounges and folding unregulated medical-cannabis dispensaries into the new state recreational system.

Holmes was a prime sponsor of Initiative 502, passed by voters in 2012 to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana.

His call comes just before the start of a legislative session in which the future of medical marijuana shops could be hotly debated.

"They're creating a public safety nightmare, frankly, and they're undercutting the 502 stores because they're unregulated and untaxed," Holmes told KIRO 7.

Holmes' proposal echoes that of State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who wants any marijuana-related businesses' activity regulated by the Washington State Liquor Control Board.

"Usually the simplest solution is the best solution," Holmes said.

Holmes' policy statement called for medical-grade cannabis standards, medical cannabis consultants licensed by the state, and an exemption from the marijuana excise tax for pot with low psychoactive levels.

"All of these things should lead to a competitive product that meets the need of medical patients as well as the recreational users," Holmes said.

Holmes said allowing any adults to grow up to six marijuana plants at home, for any reason, would help patients get the medicine they need.

He said that would bring Washington in line with the three other states that allow marijuana for adult use, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska.

The idea of combining the recreational and marijuana systems is a significant worry for patients who rely on cannabis to control pain.

Ryme Windham uses marijuana for several ailments, including endometriosis and problems with digestion.

"It makes it to where I'm not in pain all the time, I can smile and mean it. I don't rely on a little pill," Windham said.

She used to take 20 pharmaceuticals a day.

Now she uses about six forms of marijuana from Northwest Patient Resource Center.

Could she get what she needs from a new recreational pot store, where prices are higher and the variety is limited?

"No, no, not even 10 percent of what I need," Windham answered.

Late Monday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray issued a statement that "shutting down all collective gardens is not the right solution because it leaves our patients out in the cold."

The statement said Murray was prepared to protect patient access to medical-grade marijuana through city licensing if the state legislature does not act.

Holmes' statement also touched on several other issues related to legalized marijuana.

Holmes supports what he called "marijuana use lounges" as places for people to use vaporizers and edibles.

Smoking joints would not be allowed, because of the state indoor smoking ban.

The policy statement said Holmes is working with Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata on legislation to allow the lounges, which would provide a place for out-of-town visitors and residents whose buildings do not allow marijuana.

Holmes also wrote of "changing social norms" when it comes to enforcing Initiative 502's ban on marijuana use in public.

Holmes noted that Seattle police enforcement should emphasize crackdowns on smoking pot, which has a strong smell, rather than on vaporizer use, which does not.

Vaporizing, he wrote, "encourages a healthier inhalation option for consumers."

Holmes also suggests the state change from a three-tiered tax system for marijuana to a single-tiered tax system, where the tax is applied only at the point of sale.

Holmes said the tax change should be made in a "revenue neutral way," and said his proposal was acknowledgment that the original initiative needs some modification.